Our Views: ‘Yeas’ and ‘nays,’ as state lawmakers ring in new year

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has spent holiday time announcing which legislative proposals could see the light in this new year and which are as dead as 2013.

Four issues in particular caught our attention. Two earn “yeas,” and two get “nays.”

Common Core academic standards: Wisconsin adopted them in 2010, and legislative committees have held hearings to consider backtracking. Tea party Republicans label them “Obamacore”—claiming they’re a presidential initiative—and spread fears that they could lead to retinal and fingerprint scans, blood-pressure cuffs and posture chairs for students. Poppycock.

Fitzgerald says the Senate lacks enough votes for repeal or even major shifts. That’s fine. It’s also good to hear Assembly Speaker Robin Vos say the standards should stay. Repealing them would return Wisconsin to a state of essentially no standards.

Some educational experts have legitimate concerns, including that Common Core focuses on math and English instead of a broader base of education and that the standards force educators to devote too much time teaching to tests. Some adjustments might be in order, but overall, state Superintendent Tony Evers was wise to support the standards as the right thing to raise Wisconsin’s academic bar.

Campaign financing: The Assembly passed a bill that would double annual donation limits for state office candidates. Even more troubling, it would double the amount that special-interest political action committees could throw at campaign committees, controlled by legislative leaders, every two years. Fortunately, Fitzgerald says, “there’s not an appetite for visiting those issues” in the Senate. Money already wields too much power in politics.

As Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin suggests, no one outside the state Capitol asked for, wants or supports the legislation.

Raising Interstate speeds to 70 mph: It’s disappointing to hear Fitzgerald say a bill that passed the Assembly lacks enough Senate votes to pass but heartening that he says behind-the-scenes work continues. Wisconsin remains in the slow lane, even backward, on Interstate speeds. Drivers in every other state from Pennsylvania to Oregon can go 70 or faster.

The change would give more drivers the opportunity to reach jobs or vacation spots more quickly without breaking the law. It would make salespeople more efficient and help companies move goods and services more swiftly.

Stronger drunken driving laws: Wisconsin has made tiny tweaks to its weak laws, and it’s discouraging that Fitzgerald says more modest adjustments might go nowhere in the Senate. The measures include proposals to make all second offenses misdemeanor crimes, to require first-time offenders to appear in court and to ensure prompt installation of ignition interlock devices when ordered.

Sure, some of these might drive up court costs, but those could be offset by boosting the state’s miniscule beer and alcohol taxes, which haven’t climbed in decades. Fitzgerald suggests the state needs more treatment courts. Given the high number of repeat offenders plaguing roadways, that idea has merits. It doesn’t mean, however, that these bills, which have cleared the Assembly, don’t deserve passage, as well.

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